Amanda Finn, a junior theatre and English major at Ripon College, has advanced to the national finals of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). She advanced after competing in the O’Neil Critics Institute portion of the regional competition in Saginaw, Mich. in January.
As one of only eight national finalists, Finn will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in April to learn from professional critics such as Bob Mondello from National Public Radio and Trey Graham from City Paper. At the conclusion of that event, at least one of the finalists will be selected to work at the O’Neill Theatre Center Critics Institute during its national playwriting conference this summer.
Finn has appeared as an actress in multiple productions at Ripon College, including “Ash Girl,” “The Rover,” “The Tempest,” “The Cripple of Inishmaan” and multiple one-act plays.
As a critic, she finds a different sort of joy than she does on stage. “I love watching a show, taking notes on it and focusing on a specific thing,” says Finn. “I love seeing what other people do, especially shows I’ve seen before. It’s fun to sit and absorb theater, and no one judges you for having a pen and paper out, taking notes throughout.”
She entered the competition at the recommendation of Ripon College Theatre Professor and Department Chair Ken Hill, after Finn expressed interest in pursuing a career in theater criticism.
The regional competition requires students to watch a number of productions at the Festival and write critical reviews, then workshop their criticism with other participants and a professor. Finn says she learned that criticism isn’t just about being negative. Although her winning piece of criticism concerned a play that generally was unpopular with the critics in her group, she focused her critique on applauding the performing company’s bravery and examining why she believed the audience had difficulty understanding how to respond to the production.
“I talked about the difficulties in bringing a piece to a festival full of theater majors, knowing the piece doesn’t have a reputation,” she says. “I spoke to the fact that it was brave of them to bring it and that they gave a valiant effort.”
Her experience as an actress colors her actions as a critic, she says. “I never try to make anyone feel bad about their production. I’m an actor, so I know how it feels to be on stage and baring your soul,” she says. “It’s hard.”
Finn will work with and compete against her fellow critics at the KCACTF nationals April 15-20.